HomeInfraScooters remain essential for Malta’s dense urban areas, says mobility expert

Scooters remain essential for Malta’s dense urban areas, says mobility expert

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A shock announcement by Malta’s transport ministry to ban shared e-scooters from the streets, has dismayed alternative mobility campaigners.

The ban comes into force in January 2024, with the government claiming it will incentivise the private ownership of e-kick scooters. “With this approach, communities and individuals will experience less disruption as e-kick scooters are used responsibly,” the ministry said.

But many were those who hit out at the short-term vision of the ministry, with cycling advocacy group Rota saying the outright ban was a result of a lack of political vision and unwillingness to regulate shared micro mobility.

Friends of the Earth Malta said that over the past year and a half, Malta has seen its main shared mobility providers exit the playing field: first car sharing operator GoTo in September 2022, then bicycle sharing system Nextbike in December 2022, and then ride sharing company Cool in January 2023. “These companies threw in the towel for various reasons, which included a lack of suitable infrastructure, in the case of cycling, unaddressed and worsening road safety concerns, and a lack of government support and incentives for such sustainable mobility alternatives,” FOE’s climate campaign coordinator Dr Suzanne Maas said.

Despite this, the governemnt had appeared to recognise the important contribution of shared mobility services in its 2016 document for a Transport Master Plan for 2025, in which it expressed the ambition to introduce a car sharing and bicycle sharing system in Malta.

“Admittedly, while the introduction of e-kick scooters came with a new legislative framework, regulating driving age, speed limits and licensing and insurance, their use on the ground, in the streets, has been utterly unregulated,” Maas said.

“They are driven without respect for road rules and left parked in the middle of pavements, in front of doors or dumped by the wayside. However, these are issues that could have been easily addressed, should have been foreseen from the start, and for which solutions have long been suggested by sustainable mobility experts and organisations such as Friends of the Earth Malta and bicycle advocacy group Rota.”

For years, there have been calls for dedicated parking spots for bicycles and scooters, for protected lanes and traffic calmed zones, and for a connected network to safely use these modes of transport.

“If the government had seen the opportunity of providing safe and suitable infrastructure for micro-mobility, which includes all sorts of small personal and electric devices, such as bicycles and scooters, there could have been synergy between the promotion of these modes of transport,” Maas added.

The government is now saying it will promote the long-awaited National Cycling Strategy while banning the latter. “In reality, a diversity of transport modes is needed to build a truly multi-modal transport system, with shared mobility options complementing a robust public transport system,” Maas said,

The average trip distance in Malta is only 5.5km, with many of the shorter trips occurring in the congested urban core, where micro-mobility can be a suitable solution for short trips, or to complete the first- or last mile of a trip. “Leaner and cleaner modes of transport are essential in a dense urban area, where public space is severely limited,” Maas said.

The latest National Household Travel Survey (2021) showed that the modal share of private car use is only increasing, at 84% of total trips.

“The need to shift to sustainable mobility has never been more urgent. The private car is the least space efficient of all modes of transport, and in addition to road space, takes up precious public space for parking, oftentimes illegally and on pavements,” Maas said.

“Just shifting from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric cars will not solve our traffic problems. If we are truly concerned about pedestrian safety, so often mentioned in relation to the e-scooters, we should address the main culprit of accidents: car drivers, particularly when over speeding or driven carelessly.”

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